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LETTERS TO EDITOR
by Les Gutman
---Original Review Follows
A CurtainUp London Review
by Lizzie Loveridge
The opening is as Peter Brook describes it, a mime of grunts and effort, of repetition and of physical exertion. Two men bent over, clad in cream shirts and shorts, barefoot, bare headed and burdened with heavy pails, rhythmically make the inarticulate noises and pants of hard labour in a quarry. It is an indelible theatrical moment. Their faces screwed up against the light, hand in hand, they walk together back to their cell, their limbs aching from the hard labour. "I was sentenced to life, not bloody death," says Ntshona.
The plot is simple. We follow the men through the working day and their time in the privacy of their cell. The men act out their fantasy life, a pretend phone call home; they take it in turns to describe a movie or a book to each other. John Kani is planning to put on a two man version of Antigone as a part of a prisoners' concert and has to persuade Winston to play the part of Antigone. John hears that his appeal has been successful and that he is to be released which poignantly divides the pair and causes Winston's to rail against his lot. They describe how their imprisonment began, being taken in the night, without charge, without knowing where they were going. They tell us about the big issues alongside those smaller indignities, that no-one allowed them to stop for a pee so that they all wet their pants. Finally, they act their Antigone, a marvellous simplification of the Greek tragedy, reduced to the conflict between the interests of the state and those of the individual and a biting, satirical indictment of the South African apartheid regime.
The set is simplicity itself, a few bed rolls, a pail, a sleeping platform. The blankets are slung over frames for Antigone. The whole is lit with high contrast so that we can clearly see the expressions on the men's faces.
Of course Kani and Ntshona are no longer young men but their acting is seasoned and richly mature. They have grown old with these parts and seen so much change in South Africa. The camaraderie between the two men is pivotal, the message is that you cannot imprison the spirit of men like them. These are great performances and tragic as it sounds, there is plenty to smile at. We are so close to them, we share their most intimate moments -- like the pretend phone call, where Winston tries to grab the imaginary phone from John and they ask questions like, "Why isn't my wife writing to me?". The play within a play is a triumph. Kani is a forceful Creon, in improvised head-dress and chain of office, who thinks the measure of a ruler is whether his people are experiencing "happiness and fatness". Winston's Antigone in straw wig and blanket dress makes an incongruous Greek heroine but speaks up for the individual. This is a play to remind us of those incarcerated, especially those who are political prisoners.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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